Apollon: An F1 Minnow’s Tale

Posted: September 9, 2017 in Sport


Switzerland’s contribution to F1 history has been relatively limited compared to many of its European neighbours. The country that banned motorsport back in 1955 after the Le Mans disaster produced two grand Prix winners in the 1960s and 70s – Jo Siffert and Clay Regazzoni – and later the Sauber team. But it has also had its own F1 failures – first Silvio Moser’s team in 1970-71 running Bellasi cars, and then, in 1977, the Apollon. This is just one story of many attempts in the 1970s at getting a new F1 team off the ground which ultimately proved to be fruitless.

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Formula Two: motorsport’s great misnomer

Posted: September 8, 2017 in Sport


Motorsport’s governing body the FIA has decided that the best way to deal with the “problem” (if there is one) of getting good quality young drivers into Formula One is to change the Superlicense rules again, to make it “almost compulsory” for drivers to compete in the official feeder series Formula Two (until recently known as GP2) before graduating to F1. The FIA’s vision is for an orderly ladder, replacing what was previously a morass of junior series. They have steadily made it more difficult to obtain the Superlicense, the figurative piece of paper you need to compete in the top series, and are now looking to emphasise their own series further, at the expense of less orthodox routes to the top like IndyCars, endurance racing and the Japanese Super Formula series.

This is a really bad idea – totally reactionary and short-sighted. It’s the motorsport equivalent of Yer Da’s take that they should give the winners of the FA Cup a Champions League spot to make the top teams take it seriously. The reason for this lies in the history of the series, which has been known by various names over the years.

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Hi, as many of you know, I currently work for Northern, the largest train operating company outside London. I saw today that a prominent liberal journalist decided to “crowdsource” ideas for a “Crossrail of the North”, and then drew some lines on a map in paint to link presumably the four or five places in northern England that he’d heard of. It’s horrible and I’m going to try and briefly give some context.

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I’ve been watching and learning about trains and railways from television since I was a toddler. In past articles I’ve discussed the BBC series Making Tracks, which was a big influence, and The Train Now Departing, probably the classiest railway television series ever made. Many more documentaries like these were made, particularly during the 1980s, when railway enthusiasm was still bordering on the mainstream.

Today’s railway programmes don’t reach the major channels, but YouTube is your friend, both for contemporary videos and archive footage. The only problem is you have to cut through hours and hours of videos of people stood on the edge of a platform with a camcorder as Tornado flashes past to get to the real gems. I have a whole playlist of railway videos, ranging from classic British Transport Films from the 1950s and 1960s through to the bang-up-to-date All the Stations series. Here are five must-see documentary-length videos for any enthusiast:

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Things can only get better

Posted: June 9, 2017 in Politics


Wow, what a night. Well, that showed me…

That was my favourite election night yet – not that there’s a huge amount of competition. I’ve never been more delighted to have been wrong. I’m going to totally drop any sense of impartiality here – I keep getting my objective predictions wrong so what’s the point?

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Final thoughts on Election Eve

Posted: June 7, 2017 in Politics


I gave up doing the analysis of seats Labour were possibly going to lose to the Tories around the country. The situation in this election has changed by the week. At the start of this campaign just over a month ago, the Tories were projected by ComRes to get 50% of the national vote, to Labour’s 25%. A landslide of enormous proportions seemed likely. Figures from the left, centre and right of the party faced ousting. Jeremy Corbyn looked like he might be heading a party of less than 150 MPs come 9th June, with no representation in Scotland and the loss of a majority of seats in heartlands like Wales and the North East.

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I’ve temporarily stopped writing my State of Play articles in part because the picture in the polls is fluctuating so much, I’m not sure it’s entirely valid to be exclusively focusing on Tory gains/Labour losses now. The latest YouGov Wales poll seems to indicate that further, with Labour, who were 10 points behind the Tories a month ago, now 10 points ahead – the same margin as in 2015, albeit with 7% more. This is being driven by further collapses in the Lib Dem vote, along with Plaid Cymru losing a quarter of their vote, and even some former UKIP votes falling Labour’s way. The Tories are seemingly hoovering up another chunk of UKIP vote.

Labour have been gradually gaining over the last couple of weeks and are now consistently polling higher than their overall total of 2015, not to mention 2010. Some polls have Labour even polling higher in England than in 2005, when they won overall. With Wales now trending upwards significantly, it is only Scotland that looks bleak for Labour – but on the current trend, the next Scottish poll may show a drop in the Tory vote, which would be great news for Labour in any case as it would mean the Tories are less likely to pick up a significant number of seats north of the border.

As far as Wales is concerned, we have now gone from discussing the possibility of Labour losing several seats – Delyn, Alyn and Deeside, Wrexham, Bridgend, both Newport seats, two Cardiff seats, and potentially others – we are now looking at Labour making gains. The Tory majority in Gower is wafer thin and Labour will be targeting winning it back. The same goes for Vale of Clwyd. Cardiff North voted heavily Remain and the Tory majority isn’t substantial. Electionforecast.co.uk are even suggesting Preseli Pembrokeshire, the seat of former Tory leadership candidate Stephen Crabb, will go back to Labour, which would be an enormous shock. Meanwhile, Plaid’s loss of votes could bring Labour into play in Arfon, where their majority is just 3,668 (13.7%).

If this surge is reflected nationally – with working class voters who had threatened to jump ship to the Tories being frightened off by their hard right stance and a poor campaign – Labour could actually be in a surprisingly strong position. One aspect that I had previously overlooked due to Labour’s poor poll ratings but is now coming into play with their recovery is the possibility of them taking narrowish Tory seats that voted Remain, like Cardiff North and Preseli Pembrokeshire. Brighton Kemptown, Stroud and Hendon are other example of this. There is also the issue of the Lib Dems potentially doing the same thing in seats like Twickenham, Kingston and Surbiton and Lewes – if they can be forgiven for the coalition.

All of this creates a very muddied picture. The Tories were all set to make gains in Labour seats which voted Leave and had high UKIP votes last time. But the Labour vote is now resurgent, the UKIP vote doesn’t seem to be falling as squarely with the Tories as it earlier seemed, and the minority party vote (with the exception of the SNP) seems to be fracturing. The Lib Dems are facing a potential wipe-out of all their current English MPs and may be reliant on gains to hold any presence in the Commons at all – Nick Clegg, who benefited from tactically-voting Tories last time, would likely lose his seat if the Labour vote in Sheffield Hallam can hold together.

Far from the Tory landslide we thought, this could get very messy in a totally different way. If the Welsh trend is repeated across the country as the Tory campaign continues to misfire, Labour might have a chink of light, not to win the election but to effectively defeat the Tories – by stopping them passing a Queen’s speech, preventing them from governing and forcing another election.

The Tories won 330 seats in 2015 (331 including the Speaker, but he doesn’t vote), Labour on 232. To gain a majority, a party needs 326 seats, so the Tories have an official majority of 8. However, Sinn Fein have 4 seats and do not take them up in Westminster, so it is a working majority of 12. For every seat the Tories gain from Labour, their majority increases by 2, and vice versa.

Until the last few days, this has been considered a formality. But suppose the Labour vote holds – the Tories take a couple of Leave-voting seats with a UKIP swing, but Labour in turn take a wad of Remain-voting Tory seats. How does the maths work out?

Assuming the Northern Ireland seats stay the same, the Tories will need at least 324 seats to remain in majority government. If the Lib Dems do get wiped out in England and don’t gain any seats, the Tories will gain Richmond Park, Southport, North Norfolk, Carshalton and Wallington, and Westmorland and Lonsdale. That would put them on 335 – an official majority of 18. Labour would gain Sheffield Hallam and Leeds North West, putting them on 234.

The question of the SNP-vs-Tory seats is a big one. The Tories were projected to win as many as 10-12 SNP seats earlier in the campaign, but if the effect there is similar to the one seen in Wales, Scottish voters may now have cooled to the idea of voting for the Tories, and they may only gain 2 or 3 seats. For now, we’ll assume it’ll be 5, putting them in 340, giving them a majority of 28.

So how many seats do Labour have to gain to force a hung parliament? Taking 15 seats off the Tories would take them below the majority line, but they would need to take a further 2 to take them below the working majority line of 324. Even then, though, 323 would probably be enough – the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists, both centre-right parties, could be persuaded to support a Queen’s speech. Between them, they have 10 MPs. 323 Tories plus 10 unionists would give a majority of 14, and a working majority of 18.

The target therefore is getting the Tories below the number of seats where their total could be added to the unionist total and still not reach the working majority line – at the moment that line is at 314. To get below that would mean a net loss of 17 seats, but with the potential gains from the Lib Dems and the SNP factored in, the Tories would have to lose around 27 seats to not be able to make the mark needed to get a Queen’s speech through. If all of those gains were from Labour, that would put them on 261 seats.

For reference, here are the top 30 targets Labour:

1. Gower
2. Derby North
3. Croydon Central
4. Vale of Clwyd
5. Bury North
6. Morley and Outwood
7. Plymouth Sutton and Devonport
8. Thurrock
9. Brighton Kemptown
10. Bolton West
11. Weaver Vale
12. Telford
13. Bedford
14. Plymouth Moor View
15. Lincoln
16. Peterborough
17. Cardiff North
18. Corby
19. Warrington South
20. Waveney
21. Southampton Itchen
22. Keighley
23. North Warwickshire
24. Carlisle
25. Copeland
26. Halesowen and Rowley Regis
27. Crewe and Nantwich
28. Erewash
29. Hendon
30. Ipswich

The truth is Labour will probably need help from the Lib Dems in some seats – here are the Tory-vs-Lib Dem seats inside that range:

1. Eastbourne
2. Lewes
3. Thornbury and Yate
4. Twickenham
5. Kingston and Surbiton
6. St Ives
7. Torbay

There is also Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, seat of Scottish Secretary David Mundell, which is within range for the SNP on a good night for them.

It seems a very tall order, but it’s not entirely out of the question. It’ll take a lot to go in Labour’s favour – they’d need to hold all their marginals against the Tories, which seems unlikely, the SNP continuing to get huge support across the board in Scotland, and probably a small Lib Dem revival in some of their former seats, as well as taking some seats in areas that voted Leave. Frankly, even with optimistic polling, it seems very unlikely. But with momentum with Labour, anything seems possible right now. The fact that we’re even discussing this, having previously been discussing a potential Tory majority of 200 and the potential destruction of the Parliamentary Labour Party only a few weeks ago is remarkable – and shows that there’s still a long way to go before this election is decided.